Sunday, December 31, 2006

Conyers' "Lack of Clarity"

"You can attack one party for having a lack of ethics, but if any of your own members have problems, it dulls the message with the American people," said Leon Panetta, an ex-Democratic congressman from California and chief of staff under President Clinton. "They begin to put everybody in the same box. It clearly loses some of its impact as a clean campaign issue." USA Today, May 9, 2006
That same USA Today article notes that there were complaints by Conyers' own staff that he would assign workers to babysit, chauffeur and tutor his children and also had his aides work on his campaign on government time. Conyers' lawyer said that Conyers responded to the charges two years earlier and hasn't heard from the ethics committee since then.

But now it is being reported by The Hill that Conyers
has "accepted responsibility" for possibly violating House rules by requiring his official staff to perform campaign-related work, according to a statement quietly released by the House ethics committee late Friday evening.

...Conyers acknowledged a "lack of clarity" in communicating what was expected of his official staff and that he accepted responsibility for his actions.
Representatives Doc Hastings (R) and Howard Berman (D) of the House Ethics Committee were satisfied with stopping short of saying whether there had been any wrongdoing and instead were satisfied with Conyers' office implementing 6 steps to make sure proper standards are upheld. They stated, "We have concluded that this matter should be resolved through the issuance of this public statement."

According to The Detroit Free Press, the actual investigation, which started back in 2003, was originally looking into other allegations: that Conyers’ staff had worked on the campaign of JoAnn Watson for Detroit City Council and Carolyn Moseley Braun's presidential campaign--while getting paid from congressional coffers.

Question: Does the closing of the Ethics Committee investigation include this initial investigation as well, which was not an issue of staffers working for free, but rather for working on the campaigns of others--and getting paid from inappropriate sources?

[Update: In an updated version of the Detroit Free Press, the article makes clear that the earlier infractions were also covered--which just leaves the question of the new headline: "Conyers to monitor staff". I mean, if so, who is going to monitor Conyers, who personally assigned the staff to do what they did?]

According to a statement released by Conyers' office, “he agrees that he could have been more explicit with staff and agrees to do so in the future.”

On the other hand Deanna Maher, Conyers’ chief of staff before she retired in May 2005 and one of the 3 Conyers staffers who filed the complaint with the Ethics Committee, doesn't think Conyers' problem was lack of clarity:
She said she’s surprised that Conyers admitted he might have been wrong during the investigation, calling him a demanding boss who was very clear in his instructions to staff.
The Hill suggests that the findings of the Ethics Committee could cast a shadow on the first week of the incoming-Democratic majority and their plains to change the House ethics rules, as well as raise questions about Conyers’ standing to chair the Judiciary Committee. Maybe so, but The Hill also reports that Conyers will not have worry about any political fallout:
A spokesman for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Conyers will remain chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Like Panetta said:
You can attack one party for having a lack of ethics, but if any of your own members have problems, it dulls the message with the American people
Check out Doug Ross and his "illustration" on why Conyers' lapse is not the only reason Pelosi is getting swamped with ethics problems.


From Tapscott's Copy Desk:
Federal law makes it a crime for a Member of Congress to use official staff members to perform campaign or personal duties. Many official staff members participate in their bosses' re-election campaigns every two years but they go off the official staff payroll when doing so.
Update II:

Another issue, recounted by Michelle Malkin
As the Washington Times recounted, Maher also alleged that the congressman allowed a former top aide convicted of fraud to obtain a fake passport through the office, and then fled to Ghana.
The aide was eventually recaptured and extradited to the United States. She also alleges that Mr. Conyers used his staff to work on the campaigns of friends and relatives, including his wife's, without taking leave. In 1998, she says, Mr. Conyers ordered her to live in his Detroit home for six weeks taking care of his children while his wife attended law classes. In a Dec. 22, 2004, letter obtained by the Hill, Miss Maher said Conyers staffer Melody Light "conducts her law practice (charging legal fees) out of the congressional office... She has in effect hung out her shingle on [Conyers'] office door." Says Miss Maher in a Jan. 13 letter to the House ethics panel: "I could not tolerate any longer being involved with continual unethical, if not criminal, practices which were accepted as 'business as usual'. " She quit in May.

More here.

Here's Pelosi's defense of Democrat's corruption back in May:
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California sought to distinguish her party's foibles from the scandals that brought down Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., for bribery and three former Republican congressional aides who had ties to ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, a Republican, pleaded guilty in January to corruption charges.

"You're talking about two completely different things," Pelosi said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. The Democratic ethics cases are "individual challenges that those people will have to deal with," she said, noting that she has called for the House ethics committee to investigate Jefferson. Republicans, she charged, have a system of "corruption, cronyism and incompetence" that goes beyond personal indiscretions.
Introducing the Democratic Congress of 2007: Individually Challenged!

See also
Talking Turkey About Conyers and Congressman Conyers and Islam

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